Vegans, as much as anyone else, like to go to restaurants for the whole experience of dining out, where it is as much about the ambiance as it is the food.
I am still new in Michiana, so I haven’t figured out all of the eateries around here that might fill the role of an “occasion” restaurant. But so far we have chosen to go to The Mark Dine & Tap for some of our special occasions, including our daughter’s 19th birthday a few months ago.
The Mark was the choice again last Friday when my husband, Shankar, texted me from the gym that he wanted to buy me drink! How could I turn down that invitation?
So what is it about The Mark that makes it an occasion restaurant — a place to go for fun, for weekends and birthdays? Its location in Eddy Street Commons, a bustling gathering place with other restaurants, gives it the urban social appeal. The visuals of the décor and the presentation of the food are elegant and modern.
The menu is pared down, but the vegan and vegetarian items are clearly marked. The servers are knowledgeable about vegan foods, too; they know better than to recommend a salad dressing that contains honey when you have just told them you are a vegan.
The Mark has a sophisticated bar menu, but perhaps staff don’t yet understand that vegans avoid wines that are filtered using animal products. There is no section for vegan wines, so I referred to my Barnivore guide to identify the vegan-friendly drinks.
We both decided that I should choose a cocktail this time, so I perused the ingredients. Some of the cocktails contain honey or cream, and those are easily ruled out.
I settled on the East India Cocktail, circa 1880, which seemed safe from a vegan point of view but otherwise proved to be potent. But that’s part of the fun — imbibing something new and exotic, perhaps a little dangerous, while still within my limits. Shankar chose one of the dark draft beers, and the two drinks visually complemented each other nicely.
For an appetizer, we chose the “small plate” Shishito Peppers. This is a bowl of long green chilies, cooked lightly in sesame oil and served with toasted sesame seeds. These are mostly mild peppers, but every five peppers or so you will find yourself biting into a hot one.
So we were eating the peppers anticipating the hot one, predicting who would pick the zinger. Now this was food as entertainment, with each pepper presenting us with a little gamble.
For occasions like this, you will not find us choosing to eat a salad as an entrée. So that left us with exactly two vegan dishes: “Brey”sian stir-fry for me and a black bean burger for Shankar.
The soup, corn chowder, turned out to be non-vegan, so the stir-fry was served with a side salad. Of course the fries with the burger proved irresistible and there was enough for two people.
The burger (stacked high with avocado, tomato, onion and corn relish) was substantial and tasty. Still, I managed to eat all my stir-fry also, sorting through veggies in vegan Buddha hoisin sauce, gourmet tofu pieces and on down to the layer of brown rice.
But if I remember rightly, that is the same entrée I have eaten almost every time I have been to The Mark. There were no desserts for vegans (we asked), although it is quite possible to offer delicious desserts without eggs or dairy.
For fun and for ambiance, The Mark is a great restaurant. For quality of the foods, it is top-notch. But for variety of options for vegans, it is particularly lacking.
We will see whether it holds its spot as our go-to special occasion restaurant as I explore Michiana’s other eateries.
Rama Ganesan is a vegan living in Granger. Along with fellow meatless maven Crystal Hallwood, she plans on bringing you stories and tips about dining out vegan in Michiana through the new Flavor 574 blog Vegan at the Bend. To make sure you don’t miss a thing, subscribe to the Vegan at the Bend email newsletter.